Mark Johnson's EXCLUSIVE 2011-2012 winter weather forecast for Northeast Ohio

CLEVELAND - Contrary to what some of you might believe, our winter weather forecast is NOT based on tea leaves, acorns or stripes on a catepillar. It's actually based on ocean and air circulation patterns.

This fall, we have experienced a renewed cooling of the Pacific Ocean waters near the equator. That's fondly called LaNina and it's predicted to hang around into spring. We are also in a 50-year ocean cycle called the PDO, which pushes colder waters all the way up the U.S. west coast into Alaska. In the Atlantic Ocean, water temperatures in the North Atlantic are warmer than average.

Now, These circulation patterns have happened in the past. We know, in general, how they affect temperature and precipitation across the U.S. And when they combine, they have distinct and predictable effects on our local weather. And remember: the purpose of a seasonal forecast is not to focus on daily weather conditions. Instead, we focus on trends in temperature and precipitation. Will our temperatures this winter be warmer or colder than normal. You get it.

So here goes... Based on expected global circulation patterns for this winter: Expect December and January to look like this across Ohio. Temperatures, on average, a few degrees below normal. Snowfall near-to-slightly below normal. Snow will come primarily from that fan-favorite lake effect with the occasional Alberta Clipper low pressure system thrown in.

Things will get interesting during the second half of winter. Milder air will begin to push back north -- February and March could actually see temperatures average above normal by a degree or so. As the storm track shifts north into the Ohio valley, I would expect a few good winter storms to affect the lower Great Lakes.

Are there other factors that will affect our winter weather? You bet. Some of these circulations change weekly or daily and are a little tough to nail months in advance.

So, the bottom line here: Expect bitter cold periods for the first half of winter with near normal snowfall and above-normal temperatures, with a couple of big snowstorms in February and March. Get ready Northern Ohio: A colder than normal winter with near normal snowfall is on the way!

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